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Why Should I Use Version Control in Project Management Software?

Version control is a method of tracking changes to documents and files to always know which version is the current iteration. It also enables you to maintain old versions in case you want to see what’s changed or need to restore a previous version. 

Projects typically result in the creation of a lot of documents, from project reports to deliverables. By using project management software with version control, or version management, you can efficiently track and control changes to these documents directly within your software. 

Version control can also apply to other files, such as videos and images, as well as software and any other deliverables that have multiple iterations. 

Version management vs. configuration management

Version management is one aspect of configuration management. Configuration management has two main purposes:

  • Managing changes to a project
  • Improving the reliability of information  

Version control helps you achieve these goals by tracking changes so you can be confident everyone is always working from the correct version of a file or document. It allows you to see what changes were made, when, and by whom.  

However, version control does not typically provide visibility into why changes were made or how those changes impact other aspects of the project. A configuration management system, on the other hand, would enable you to see how a requirement change impacts other requirements. 

Imagine you’re planning on building a house, and your electrician wants to move the electrical panel over one foot from the location originally planned in the blueprints. 

Version control would track this change. But assessing the impact of the change would fall on the reviewers and approvers of the new blueprints. Configuration management would automatically flag issues. If moving the panel would put it in the way of the water line, the system can warn you of this.

Typically, configuration management systems are only needed for very large and complex projects with many interrelated parts, such as construction design projects

The importance of version control

To illustrate the importance of version control, let’s look at some all-too-common scenarios that tend to happen when version control is absent:

  • Scenario 1: You go searching for a project file, only to discover you have multiple versions, and you have no idea which is the right one. 
  • Scenario 2: A team member gets feedback from a reviewer and makes changes to a file, only to find out they updated the wrong version.
  • Scenario 3: An approver signed off on a file, only for you to realize they had an old version. Now you need them to sign off all over again. 

The risk of working from the wrong file is extremely high when you have multiple revisions and no effective means of controlling versions. And every time someone works from the wrong file, you’re wasting time, creating rework, and increasing the risk of errors being included in the final product. 

What happens if someone edits, changes, or deletes a document in error? If you don’t have version control software capable of restoring old versions, all of your team’s work can be lost. 

File versioning tools not only make it clear which file is the latest version but also allow you to go back and restore previous versions.

Benefits of project management software with version control

When your project management software includes version control functionality, you can centralize all of your important project files in one place. 

You can also link version changes to your proofing and approval cycle. If someone adds a new version of an attachment to a task, folder, or project, the review process will automatically reset. This functionality ensures that you never accidentally provide a client with an unreviewed version of a file. 

Whenever a new version of a file is added, the assigned reviewers and approvers will automatically see the latest version when they review it. There’s no need for them to search in another database or scroll through the whole version history to find and select the newest file.

A robust project management software solution will allow you to:

  • Attach any kind of file to tasks and folders: With version control functionality, you can be confident everyone on the team has the latest version of all of your project files, whether they’re specifications, agreements, brochures, logos, etc. 
  • Eliminate the risk of different stakeholders relying on different solutions: For instance, if part of your team uses a SharePoint site to store files and the other part uses a cloud solution, you could still end up with multiple conflicting versions even though both teams were using version control. 
  • Integrate multiple tools and workflows: If your team consists of people from different departments or areas within the organization, the standard tools they use every day may not integrate or talk to each other. This means if you allow them to use their own storage tools rather than your project software, you create data silos and increase the risk of incorrect versions. 

Human error is also more likely as teams try collaborating across fragmented systems. As the amount of data collected increases over time, the problems compound.

By adopting your project management software as the single source of truth on the project, you remove silos, reduce barriers, and ensure everyone always has the correct version of project files. 

Further reading
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